A clear winner
PUBLISHED: 11:49 17 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:05 20 February 2013
Bottled water isn't a new concept, it's been produced at Longtown for more than a century and now the family-run Black Mountain Mineral Water Company is tapping into success thanks to one of the county's natural resources
The idyllic village of Longtown nestling in the foothills of the Black Mountains on the Herefordshire/Welsh border is the tranquil location of Black Mountain Mineral Water Company, best known as producer of the Celtic Vale brand. The business is owned and run by a local family who have lived and farmed in the locality since the mid 1800s. Glyn and Dorinda Watkins started the business in the 1980s as a diversification from sheep farming and it has grown steadily ever since. Although bottled water is considered to be a modern concept the area was once before renowned for its water quality and purity when in Victorian times Longtown water was bottled and sent for sale in London.
Local records show that during the early 1900s a bottling abstraction licence was applied for in the Longtown valley on several occasions. The existing village hall was in fact originally built as a bottling factory around 1912 and produced what was then called Hatterrall Water taking its name from the high ridge that shadows the valley. It was packaged in glass bottles and distributed primarily in London where it was noted for its exceptional quality and aid to health and vitality.
In 1986 Glyn similarly had the idea to bottle this local resource. Originally his motivation was borne out of a need to supplement the farm's income, diversification being the buzz word at the time. After reading an article in Farmers Weekly about the increasing appetite for bottled waters, he realised the potential of the powerful artesian spring on his farm and applied for an abstraction licence. The spring is situated 800 feet above sea level in an area designated as a protected zone by the Environmental Agency and bubbles to the surface under natural pressure. The fact that the spring surfaces so high above any farm land greatly contributes to its exceptional purity and low nitrate content. After rigorous testing the Environmental Agency confirmed that the quality and quantity of the water in the source was consistently excellent and the decision was taken to move ahead with the business.
Dorinda says: "The spring produces 80,000 gallons of natural spring water per day. The water rises to the surface under natural pressure and travels straight from the spring to the bottling plant receiving no other treatment beyond filtration before being bottled."
The first few years involved Glyn and Dorinda building up the water business alongside running the farm. Glyn had to become a man of many hats with his responsibilities spanning all aspects of the business from production to sales to delivery driver, chief engineer and maintenance man. Meanwhile Dorinda was fully involved working on the manual bottling line, running the office and farming, alongside bringing up their two small children Carl and Melanie.
In 1994, having become very disillusioned with the decline in agriculture, and realising the potential market for bottled water the brave decision was taken to sell Ty Mawr farm, retaining only an acre of land around the spring and four acres of land in the valley on the Longtown to Pandy road. The nature of the water trade is all about volume of sales, profit per bottle being pennies and it became clear that it was not possible to run the business as a cottage industry. The time had come to invest all in the growth and development of the business.
In 1995 after a long battle and agreeing to numerous restrictions, planning permission was granted to erect the new bottling plant. With the new site came an automated bottling line and the ability to produce higher volumes and a greater variety of products for sale.
By 2001 Black Mountain Mineral Water Company was bottling a range of products in glass and plastic bottles of varying sizes, it was also building up a water cooler business providing water and machines for the workplace. It was also in this year that a major milestone was achieved when the business gained the highest accolade of quality within the water industry of 'Mineral Water' status. To achieve this upgrade from Spring Water a process of rigorous testing by the authorities is sustained for a period of three years, to ensure that the flow and mineral content have a consistent quality. This testing continues on a weekly basis.
Recent years have seen the business rapidly grow and Black Mountain has had to increase its staff numbers accordingly providing local jobs in a rural area. Sadly in 2007 Glyn died after a period of illness and Melanie and Carl have since joined the business, keen to build on its success and continue to promote the product that their father was so passionate about.
And for the future? Dorinda says: "With the increased interest in sourcing local produce and reducing our carbon footprint we have experienced a greater demand for our products locally. Mineral waters take their mineral composition and character from the area of origin and we are finding that people have an increased appreciation and awareness of home grown products. Longtown has a history of producing quality waters and we are keen to uphold these standards for the future."
Herefordshire is world famous for producers of beef and cider. Although not as well known it now appears that the county's water quality has long been recognised among its fine assets.
www.celticvale.co.uk, tel: 01873 860295